David Poile's Nashville Predators have been one of the NHL "Pleasant Surprise" teams. All things considered, very pleasant.
Picked in The Hockey News Annual to finish next-to-last in the Central Division, the Preds sit comfortably above the .500 mark and could top such higher picks as Winnipeg, St. Louis, Dallas and Minnesota.
The maestro behind Preds' power is the only GM in franchise history, David Poile. In an exclusive interview with The Maven, Poile addressed the following topics:
ASSESSMENT OF THE PREDATORS: "I'd never want to be in the prediction business, especially in the NHL where we have so much parity each year. We're happy where we are currently but still have a long way to go to meet our expectations and our only goal, which is to make the playoffs."
KEY TO THE CLUB'S IMPROVEMENT: "We have a team identity."
FAVORITE ROOKIES: 1."Phil Tomasino is a right wing with tons of offensive upside. He always seems to get chances and the puck always seems to find him." (The Hockey News had this review: "He had a nice scoring pace as a teenager in the AHL. First-rate speed and shot. Working on two-way skills.") 2. "Tanner Jeannot, a left wing, is a great story. He was an undrafted WHL player; really, a late-bloomer. With us he's getting better every game. Tanner brings physicality but also underrated skill. He's a potential future leader of our club."
IMPROVEMENT IN VETS, RYAN JOHANSEN AND MATT DUCHENE:
"You need your best players to be your best players. That certainly has been the case for this season as their offensive production has gone way up. Perhaps, more importantly, they've provided excellent leadership for our younger players."
JOHN HYNES' COACHING ASSETS: "Start with his work ethic, his organization, and preparedness. Plus, John has a strong belief in himself and his players."
COMPARING THE NO. 1 GOALIE, JUUSE SAROS, WITH LEGENDARY, RETIRED PEKKA RINNE: "They're both from Finland and both are terrific goalies. Due to the size difference (Saros is a "smallish 5-11, 180 pounds), there's no other comparison."
TWO BIGGEST THRILLS AS PREDS GM: "One was the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. It truly established Nashville as a hockey town. Another was the 2016 NHL All-Star Game which put us on the map, league-wise." (Then, a pause.) "I'm leaving a spot open for the 'biggest thrill' to come."
KEYS TO SUCCESS: "I've been fortunate enough to hire – and surround myself with – great and knowledge-able people. Also, I've had great mentors in Cliff Fletcher, who was the first to hire me, and of course my dad, Bud, who was a GM in the NHL."
MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS HE LEARNED: "T.O.T.S. Never take oneself too seriously. You can't be afraid of what you don't know. Plus, you must be able to embrace change and evolve."
I'M JUST SAYIN' –
* Speaking of "perfect," New England's gift to Minnesota, Battlin' Bill Guerin, is the ideal choice as GM of Team USA in the Olympics.
* I guess Bruce Boudreau really isn't "too old" – after all – to coach the Canucks.
* On the other hand, Connecticut's Spencer Knight is too young to be pushed too fast into Florida's crease. The kid needs more AHL time.
* During the 2012 playoffs – Rangers lost to New Jersey – an NHL biggie asked me if John Tortorella "was an act?" I said, "Aye-Aye, sir!" P.S. Torts still is – an act; now playing on ESPN.
* I remember when a lotta folks figured Max Pacioretty was over the hill. Go see Vegas and get the answer: NOT!
* Don't run to your eye doctor when you see Anaheim near the NHL's peak. Watch kids like Troy Terry and Trevor Zegras, and you'll know why.
LAFRENIERE – FROM BUST TO BOOM? The feeling in Rangerville is that the Blueshirts first overall pick in the 2020 NHL draft, Alex Lafreniere, has underperformed. And that's to put it mildly.
I mean; eight points in 28 games is not exactly what New York had in mind when they obtained The Prince of Ste. Eustache, Quebec. MSG boss Jim Dolan was hoping for someone along the lines of a Hall of Famer-In-The-Making. Perhaps a latter-day Jean Beliveau or Guy Lafleur or some other francophone ace.
But, wait, that may not be fair to Lafreniere. I vividly remember that it took both Hall of Famers, Big Jean and The Flower, at least three years to earn their spurs.
Or, as Pal Matt Larkin sagely noted in The Hockey News Prospects Unlimited Edition, Alex has a good excuse. "Lafreniere was thrust into the world's top league as perhaps the coldest No. 1 overall pick in NHL history with a ten-month layoff between games."
The Maven predicts that Big Alexi will turn star a year from now. (Or, as my beloved Algebra teacher, Kate Garretson, liked to say, "See me after class.")
WHO SAID IT? "It's difficult to play hurt – in fact, it's difficult to play when you're healthy!" (Answer below.)
1. CANUCKS: I'm wondering whether Gentleman Jim Rutherford is thinking of Neil Smith among his "40 possibilities" to g.m. the Canucks. (I would!).
2. LACROSSE-HOCKEY: The Trevor Zegras-Sonny Milano quasi-lacrosse goal was a work of art. So, why the debate? And when is ESPN's John Tortorella gonna make up his mind on it? (I hope before his next NHL gig.)
3. NAY TO OLYMPICS: I give Donald (Much To Fear) Fehr no more than a week before his union card-holders declare that Olympic participation ain't worth the gamble. (Maybe less than a week.)
4. HAIL HAL: Just turned 90, Harold Gelman is one of the few remaining founders of the Rangers Fan Club. Hal was so smart, even irascible coach Phil Watson took Gelman's advice. (RFC was born in 1950.)
5. LANGUAGE BARRIER: The next Canadiens GM does not have to be a francophone nor an anglophone. He has to be the best available. ('Nuff said!)
NICE SHARK BITE FOR A BLUE JACKET
Erik Karlsson received a rare request from a foe the last time his Sharks played Columbus. Blue Jackets defenseman Adam Boqvist, 21, requested a stick from the two-time Norris Trophy-winner. Better still, Karlsson made Boqvist's day by obliging the up-and-coming BJ.
"Erik has been my idol since I was a kid growing up (in Falun, Sweden)," Boqvist revealed. "My camera album is full of him."
Boqvist scored a pair of goals that night in a 5-3 win over the Sharks. His kid sidekick, Cole Sillinger, is another reason why Columbus could surprise and make the playoffs this season. (Thanks to my man in Columbus, Coby Maeir, for this tidbit.)
DEBATE: OVER THE GLASS PENALTY – DUMB OR DUMBER?
Toronto-based author-reporter Rob Del Mundo calls the Over-The-Glass penalty, "The worst rule in pro sports; egregiously and unfairly punishing the offending team." (I know a few others who agree with him.}
On the contrary, Seattle-based Glenn Dreyfuss disagrees with Rob.
"Officials aren't asked to determine if an offending player 'meant' to hook or trip the opponent; only when his action was illegal is subject to judgment," Dreyfuss offers in rebuttal, and then adds:
"A retired ref told me the one time he hated to call an over-the-glass penalty was when a team was already shorthanded. And he'd usually find an excuse not to."
Personally, I like the penalty exactly as is since the game is designed to reward continuous action. (Your thoughts are welcome.)
BIG-TIME THANKS: I waited a week before getting into the "Thank You's" following my U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame induction. Frankly, I needed to get off the "high" it gave me while getting my two feet back on the ground.
The Denver ceremony was awe-inspiring and stupendous. I'm grateful to the leadership of Executive Director Pat Kelleher and President Mike Trimboli.
Likewise, huge thanks to the U.S. Hall of Fame Selection Committee. There never was a hint I was in the running. These folks sure know how to keep a secret.
I'm furthermore honored to enter the hallowed Hall along with fellow inductees, Peter McNab and Paul Holmgren; each a true "Hockey Player's Hockey Player."
Not to be overlooked, I can't say enough good things about USA Hockey's Dave Fischer who guided me through the process; plus my pal/agent and "Get It Right Guy," David Kolb, who helped every inch of the way.
THE READERS WRITE: Maven-follower Richard Mann sends this: S.O.S.
"Today marks the Centennial of Hall of Famer King Clancy's first NHL game. He was 18 plus 295 days and faced Ottawa. Clancy got neither a point nor a penalty." But he did score in his third game, a 10-0 win over the Canadiens. (More incredible than the score was the fact that the Habs goalie was Georges Vezina! They later named a trophy after him.)
(ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? Garry Unger, former Blues and Red Wings star.)